What is it?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) – the same type of virus that causes cold sores. It can cause outbreaks of blisters or sores on the genitals and anus. Once infected, you can continue to have recurrent episodes of symptoms throughout your life.

What are the symptoms?

Most people with the herpes simplex virus (HSV) don’t experience any symptoms of genital herpes when first infected. As a result, many people don’t know they have the condition. Symptoms may not appear until months or sometimes years after you’re exposed to the virus. If you experience symptoms when first infected, they usually appear four to seven days after you have been exposed to the virus. The symptoms are usually more severe first time around than in cases of recurrent infections.

Initial infection symptoms of genital herpes:

  • Small blisters that burst to leave red, open sores around your genitals, rectum (back passage), thighs and buttocks.
  • Blisters and ulcers on the cervix (lower part of the womb) in women.
  • Vaginal discharge in women.
  • Pain when you pass urine.
  • A general feeling of being unwell, with aches, pains and flu-like symptoms.

These symptoms may last up to 20 days. However, the sores will eventually scab and heal without scarring.

Although the initial symptoms of genital herpes clear up, the virus remains dormant (inactive) in a nearby nerve. The virus may be reactivated from time to time, travelling back down the nerve to your skin and causing recurrent outbreaks.

Symptoms of a recurrent outbreak may include:

  • A tingling, burning or itching sensation around your genitals, and sometimes down your leg, before blisters appear.
  • Painful red blisters that soon burst to leave sores around your genitals, rectum (back passage), thighs and buttocks.
  • Blisters and ulcers on the cervix (lower part of the womb) in women.

Recurrent outbreaks are usually shorter and less severe. This is because your body has produced protective antibodies (proteins that fight infection) in reaction to the previous infection. Your body now recognises the virus and mounts a response that is able to fight HSV more effectively. Over time, you should find any recurrent genital herpes infections become less frequent and less severe.

What to expect?

If you are diagnosed with genital herpes, you can consider discussing the following subjects with your doctor after the initial treatment:

  • Some patients diagnosed with genital herpes have other forms of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Is this the case for you as well? Do you need, if necessary, diagnostic investigations for screening other STIs?
  • Once treatment has been started, when are you safe not to transmit the infection through sexual intercourse?
  • Do you need to inform sexual partner/s to get screened for STIs?
  • Once treatment is successful, what are the ways you can lessen your risk of developing another STI?

Think you might have Genital herpes?

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Think you might have Genital herpes?